Tuesday, 30 June 2015


Francis Yeoh is, in his words, ‘a true blue Singaporean, born and raised here, served NS, likes durian, kway chap, yong tau foo and chili crab’. He did, however, spend seven years in England and one in Boston ‘collecting a few pieces of paper’. His guilty pleasure is having beef jerky with beer at the end of a hot day. He thinks that the most interesting recent development in technology is the drone because there are just so many application possibilities. Francis chairs the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Committee at SoC.

Francis and his wife Karol at Machu Picchu, Peru

What are you working on and why are you passionate about it?
My work in the last 30 years or so has always revolved around research, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, whether as a research scientist, research institute director, start-up CEO, venture investor, government policy maker, or university professor.  
I have lived through Singapore’s incredible transformation from third world to first and saw how the country cleverly transitioned from a labour intensive economy in the 60s to the sophisticated knowledge-based metropolis that it is today, thanks to the hard work, foresight and resilience of our founding leaders and pioneer generation. Moving ahead in an increasingly complex and inter-connected world, I believe Singapore has to develop a thriving entrepreneurial wing to the economy, to complement the FDI (foreign direct investment) led strategy that had served us well in the 70s and 80s but is no longer adequate for the future. A robust economy should have both large corporations for stability and resilience as well as numerous fast-growing startups, for agility, dynamism and renewal. This is why in my past work in government, whether in the National Science and Technology Board (now A*STAR) or the National Research Foundation, I had pushed for the development of an eco-system that will support the entrepreneurial community of startups, venture capital, angel investors and supporting services. The universities have an important role to play in supplying innovative technologies and the entrepreneurs that are the central players in such an eco-system.  
SoC, as a top-ranked computer science school can and should certainly play a key role. SoC could produce graduates who are not just technically competent but also possess drive and resourcefulness, and a desire to experience the intensity and pace of the startup world rather than take up a safe job with a large corporation or government agency.  
What a few SoC colleagues and I hope to do here is to educate and equip SoC students with the entrepreneurial skills needed to work in a tech start-up and to encourage and guide them in the first steps of their entrepreneurial journey and help connect them to the local startup eco-system.  

Describe your SoC experience. 
What I find enriching is the opportunity to interact with bright, driven young people, both in my class (IS3251: Principles of Technology Entrepreneurship) and in the SoC incubator for start-up companies. Contrary to popular perceptions that millennials are slackers, easily distracted multi-taskers, self-serving day-dreamers, etc., I have come across many who are sensible, determined, idealistic and yet very down to earth. It is a delight to be able to encourage and guide intelligent self-driven young people to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.    
I would advise students to build strong technical skills – great software skills are very valuable and in high demand, especially in the start-up community. It is far easier to pick up business skills than technical skills later in life.  
I would also advise students to join a tech start-up early in their working life, rather than go the tried and tested (and boring) route of working for an MNC or government. There isn’t a better time than now to be part of the exciting entrepreneurial community in Singapore – the environment is very conducive, funding is quite abundant, and, there’s a thriving multi-national community of entrepreneurs operating in Singapore. For the young graduate, there are rich intense and valuable learning experiences and opportunities galore! Even if the start-up eventually fails (as many will), the value remains. Many entrepreneurs describe their start-up experiences as transformational in developing independence, perseverance and character.     

What is the one thing you would change about SoC?
As professorial fellow, I spend about half time at SoC so I would not know the School enough to suggest changes. One thing I do notice, however, is the way faculty offices are configured – long corridors with offices on either side, mostly closed. I imagine a professor could spend days, even weeks, within his closed office without interacting with anyone unless he consciously seeks to do so. For creative ideas to be seeded and nurtured, and for innovation to flourish, human interaction is key. Much has been written about the value of water cooler conversations and other serendipitous encounters that give birth to great ideas in research labs. Having offices sited in square clusters, with (open) doors facing inwards would immediately raise the interaction level manifold and increase the likelihood of developing breakthrough ideas. Of course, there are constraints imposed by the existing building architecture but I believe more emphasis could be given to build greater interaction among the faculty into the daily routine.     

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am pretty bad in recognizing faces, at least some faces. There were embarrassing occasions when I failed to acknowledge someone I saw in the street whom I’d met several times before, in the same week.  My image processing algorithm just couldn’t handle certain data sets! While usually efficient and well organized (I think!), I do have periods of unbelievable absent-minded lapses. One day returning from an overseas trip, I tried in vain to open my suitcase when I reached home. It took a while for me to realize that the key didn’t fit and yes, it wasn’t my bag – the luggage was not even same the brand and model! Thankfully, after driving back to the airport, I was able to retrieve the correct luggage and hand over the piece I took home by mistake to an anxious lady at the baggage claim. Everyone had a good laugh and my wife had a great story to entertain her friends with.  

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I enjoy working with and mentoring start-ups. When not doing that, I read a lot (non-fiction mainly), tinker with the piano and travel. My wife and I have a long bucket list of travel destinations. We want to see as many places as we can while our legs are still strong and we can endure 30-hour flights, extremes of weather and days of trekking.  

Quick-Fire! The one trait an entrepreneur must have?
Undying optimism.

The most common problem you see start-ups facing?
Not focusing narrowly enough, trying to build something to please too many different customer groups and ending up pleasing nobody.

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
Warren Buffet (but I can’t afford the going rate for lunch!)
Peter Drucker – great, insightful, down-to-earth teacher
Philip Yancey – modern day Christian philosopher with deep honest views about the world

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


Ervin Kwan will be beginning his final semester studying Information Systems in August. He thinks that he probably has a lot in common with most people because he’s interested in most things and is always learning something new. He wishes that students here would be less competitive and just be friends. When he’s not busy, his favourite pastime is watching TED videos.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hougang. I was from the neighbourhood Holy Innocents’ High School, from a normal technical stream, then was upgraded to the normal academic in later years. The thought of being in NUS one day never occurred to me at all. I had a thug’s life back then. 

Describe your SoC experience.
SoC has quite a few remarkable professors! In no particular order, I would like to shout out to Prof. Hahn Jungpil, Dr. Soo Yuen Jien and Mr. Aaron Tan. They taught the lectures that I seriously enjoyed. 
Apart from awesome professors, SoC gave me many peers, activities, air-conditioned study space, stress, bell-curve and free buffet (leeching from events). I do a lot of crazy things to my friends in SoC. Some of which are, giving flowers to the first 3 girls I meet in SoC during Valentine’s Day, telling my friends that assignment deadline was extended on April’s fool and performing magic tricks to random people. I have favourite buddies and we try to take every module together and we suffer and enjoy a lot. Beeyi, Terence and Myo! What would I do without you? 
In SoC, I enjoy sharing – I love to teach or help people who are in need. Being a CS1020 TA under Mr Aaron Tan for a semester was intriguing. I really hope I can inspire and motivate people to love computing one day. 
Apart from those who I have mentioned above, Ms. Toh and Ms. Quek (recently left) helped me so much in SoC admin matters. I demand that SoC increase their pay! How would SoC function without Ms. Toh man!? 

What did you want to be when you were younger? 
I wanna be everything! For every movie I watched, I became inspired. I feel like dancing after watching Step-Up the movie and I always have the urge to fight after watching Ip Man. 

I’m told that you’re one of the founders of NUS Magic. Tell me about this.
I started magic 7 years ago while reading books and finding resources from the Internet. Somewhere along the way, without knowing it, I became real good at it. The first external gig I performed at was introduced by my friend who had a carnival organized at a community club. While performing, people asked me for name cards and contact details because they were interested in “employing” me. I guess if the “product” is of high quality, it markets itself through word of mouth. 
NUS Magic was founded after I got a gig at an NUS event that staff and research assistants attended. It turned out that I was not the only magician there and realized that the others were also from NUS. We then discussed our passion and became determined to setup a club through OSA, despite the hassle of the process (just kidding). 
Performance itself now is like an exercise to me. The organization of content, speech, presentation and theatrics are all often thought about when I have the time. It helped me in my school’s presentation as well in teaching CS1020 as a TA. Therefore, if anyone is interested, come join us here at the NUS Magic club =D. 

What are your future plans?
As I am about to graduate soon, most of my thoughts are about my career. Have been doing internships to get a feel for what I may be interested in. Last summer, I was in IDA and this summer I am at Accenture. I guess there are so many things happening in my life all the time that I can’t plan extensively. It probably will be futile as life is so dynamic to me. 

Quick-Fire. Worst fear?
Water and betrayal

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
Iron-man, Sherlock Holmes and another Narcissist (Formula for a good comedy)

Singapore’s best kept secret?
******* **** *******

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg

Wednesday, 3 June 2015


Weng-Fai is third generation born and bred, self-professed ‘product of our system’, Singaporean. It annoys him when people don’t clean and clear up after themselves in hawker centres and when they repeatedly say ‘actually’. Hokkaido is the best place he’s been to and he’s keen about no longer needing ‘a wallet and all those cards’ with the advent of technology like Apple Pay. He can’t think of anything he would change about SoC, not because it’s perfect, but because he ‘can live with the warts’. If he could only eat three things for the rest of his life, it would be laksa, mee rebus and wanton mee. Incidentally, Weng-Fai also volunteers his photography skills, equipment and time to capture images of you quirky SoC-ians for our school brochures and publicity materials.

Describe your research and its significance. 
Research wise, I work in the area of parallel processing, computer architecture and systems. I am currently working on approximate computing. While the computer is extremely precise, there is a cost to pay for the precision. One example that everyone is concerned with is the energy consumption of computing devices. I have worked on different techniques for improving energy consumption in the past, and recently have focused on approximate computing – how to “cheat” by being imprecise when it doesn’t matter that much. Our group has just started but results are encouraging. Why am I interested? The idea of “cheating” just intrigues me :). I hope it will contribute a small drop to the way that we use the computer, especially in a green way.

Describe your SoC experience.
SoC has been my life. Almost all of my adult years have been spent here in the company of great friends, teachers, and students. The people and the quality of thought processes that I am privileged to witness and learn from [are what I enjoy the most]. [The challenge is that] the system can be very frustrating and counter-productive at times. [But I feel that my most significant achievement is] to have helped students in trouble or achieve their dreams. It feels great to have helped – [there are always students who need help] and it comes with the job. 

Which faculty members made impressions on you? 
When I was young, I had no idea what to do with my life – until I met Professor Yuen Chung Kwong, the most important teacher in my life. He used to be the Head of Department. It was under his guidance that I embarked on the journey of a university professor. 

What is the craziest thing that you have done during your time here? 
I climbed to the rooftop of AS6 and COM1 to photograph birds and the surround. That was before they locked up the access doors.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working? 
Photography. Especially going “birding” – shooting (photographing) birds – with my buddies.

Quick-Fire. Best movie you’ve seen this year?
Interstellar. I like the twist in the plot.

Three ultimate dinner party guests?
I rather dine with family and close friends than any “great” persons.

Singapore’s best kept secret?
Its forests. They are full of life.

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg